McClain's Payton Pryor is pictured in a game for the Lady Tigers last season. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
McClain's Payton Pryor is pictured in a game for the Lady Tigers last season. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
The McClain Lady Tigers are back on the basketball court for the 2022-23 season, and with Jarrod Haines entering his 10th season as the head coach of the program, he and his team will be looking for success, as they return two starters and players who are hungry to make their own mark on the storied program.

Last season, the Lady Tigers played to a 4-6 record in the Frontier Athletic Conference, and overall they finished with an 8-13 record for fifth place in the conference. The Lady Tigers played in one postseason game where they fell to the Lady Vikings of Vinton County by a 48-33 score, but that season is in the past, and it is a new start for a team that Haines describes as a “fun team to coach” as they begin their winter journey on the court.

The two returning starters are senior forward Payton Pryor and senior guard Jaden McCoy. Pryor was an All-District and All-FAC selection as a junior, finishing last season with 9.2 points per game, along with 9.0 rebounds per game, 1.1 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game.

“We return Payton Pryor who is a four-year varsity player. She is definitely the motor that keeps us going,” Haines said. “She has a nose for the basketball, and we really look forward to her breaking out her senior year. Jaden McCoy is also a returning starter who will handle the basketball for us. Jaden has a very calm spirit about her and is tenacious on the defensive end.”

Also a senior is guard Hannah Crago, and Haines spoke about her as she was injured this offseason.

“Hannah Crago also returns and suffered a severe injury in the preseason,” Haines said. “Hannah is a great teammate, and we look for her to help with her leadership on the bench with us throughout the year.”

Juniors for McClain include guard Luca Matesic, forward Haylee Havens, guard Kaitlyn Jett and guard Lily Barnes as big minutes are ahead for the trio of Barnes, Havens and Jett as they are returning players from last season.

“Lily Barnes will be a force on the block, and she can create matchup problems with her ability to go off the bounce, while Haylee Havens provides athletic ability that is tough to handle when she gets steam downhill,” Haines said. “Kaitlyn Jett will see a lot of time on the wing. She provides a quickness and has been shooting the basketball well.

“Another junior that had success on the pitch for the Lady Tigers soccer team is looking to translate that success to the court, and that’s Luca Matesic. She will be looked on to play a big defensive role for us.”

Sophomores for the Lady Tigers are guard Lindsey Hutchinson, guard Katie Cook, guard/forward Kenzie Wise, forward Brenna Wright and center Anna Eikenberry.

“We have a group of sophomores that add much-needed depth to the Lady Tigers,” Haines said. “They are Anna Eikenberry, who adds depth to the inside and provides us with size and length. Lindsey Hutchinson gives us depth to the guard spot and gives our offense another outside threat. Kenzie Wize brings versatility to the lineup, Katie Cook adds a defensive dynamic and Brenna Wright brings more athleticism to our roster.”

Athleticism for the McClain Lady Tigers is something that stands out for Haines, as he said all but one of his players participated in a fall sport, and that their summer offseason was great, too.

“We have had a great offseason. We had a good summer, and one good thing about this team is they are involved in other sports,” Haines said. “We had one player on the team that wasn't involved in a fall sport. I think this shows the athleticism of our team and how good they are as teammates and not just basketball players.

“A big positive is the ability to work together. This team works together, and you can see that by their ability to play defense together. I would say right now defensively we are playing pretty well,” Haines said. “(That said) I believe we have the ability for different kids to step up on the offensive end, and I look for that to improve throughout the year.”

The expectations for McClain are the same as usual, and that starts with comporting to get to the top of the FAC standings once the conference season is complete, and from that point, battle tough in the postseason.

“We want to compete for a league title, put ourselves in a position to play for a sectional championship and play in the district tournament,” Haines said.

As always, with all McClain teams, they are known for their hustle and strong work ethic, no matter the year, player or coach, as that’s what’s expected of their program. This year, Haines in one word described his team as “gritty.”

“Gritty,” Haines said when describing his team with great emotion. “We will flat-out get after you. It may not be the prettiest thing, but I have 12 girls that love their school and will play hard for it.”

The FAC this season will be strong and competitive as always, and for McClain, they want to improve on their standing from last season, but know the conference will be competitive as ever.

“Our conference can be anyone’s, though Jackson and Chillicothe return the most,” Haines said. “Miami Trace will be Miami Trace, Washington has a group of seniors and Hillsboro has young talent. Every night, I look for it to be competitive.”

McClain’s non-conference slate of games includes games against Peebles, Paint Valley (at Hoosier Gym), Clinton-Massie, Fairfield Union, Lynchburg-Clay, Adena, Fairfield, Blanchester, Waverly, Batavia, Piketon and Unioto.

“Our non-conference schedule is always tough,” Haines said. “We play a tough D-II schedule and play some of the best teams in other conferences — the likes of Lynchburg-Clay, Fairfield, Unioto, Adena, Paint Valley, Peebles, Fairfield Union, Waverly and Piketon, to name a few.

“I'm looking forward to coaching this team. They are fun to coach and be around.”

McClain is scheduled to open their 2022-23 season Saturday, Nov. 19 against Peebles at McClain Gym with a scheduled 6:45 p.m. start.